Conflict of (My) Interests. But It's the Rays!
I've been in the Phils and Rays camp throughout the post-season, but now I have to decide between my two favorites.
No question the far better story is the Rays. And I've already confessed here to being a Rays Rooter. So, yes, I'm picking the Rays. But this isn't going to be easy for the Tampa Bay Babies, now 6-to-5 favorites. Yes, "Rays Favored To Win '08 World Series," is now among the headlines we never thought we'd see.
Tampa Bay has home field advanatge and the best home record in baseball since the '98 (powerhouse) Yankees. This matters. Citizens Bank is a loud, crazy, fun park. But it doesn't provide the same edge as the make-you-sick-to-your-stomach Trop where Garza had to wear earplugs in Game 7. By the 3rd-4th inning of Game 1 of the '87 Series in the Metrodome, I was feeling "ill" from the volume. Remember going out and buying "chain saw earplugs" the next day which worked OK in Game 2, then mentioning them to both managers as possible for Games 6 and 7. Can't remember if either went and bought any!
The Rays also have a perfect rotation set up. Everybody knows that, if you have a quality lefty, especially a power "K" pitcher, not a nibbler, then you want to use them as early and often as you can against the Phils -- with Utley and Howard both LH and forcing Rollins and Victorino to hit righty. And the Rays have Scott Kazmir, coming off 6 shutout innings in Game 5 in Boston, for the Series opener. Kazmir has been rocky and throws too many pitches, but may have "found himself" in Boston. His confidence should be high, anyway.
Also, using Shields and Garza in Games 2 and 3 set them up as the Game 4 and 7 pitchers, if necessary. That's perfect. "Big Game" James has been good-to-excellent in every start this month. Garza is a bad, bad boy and looks like he could be the Smoltz of his generation.
The two best pitches of Game 7 were Garza's perfect chin-music brush back of Youkilis in his 1st AB and his fastball to Pedroia's elbow in his 2nd AB after he'd homered in the first inning. Garza sent the right message: "We're playing for the pennant and I'm taking my half of the plate. Live with it." Neither pitch was head high. Ryan, Clemens, Randy J, Schilling and on back to Jack Morris, Bob Gibson would have -- and did -- do the same. One brush back, one "drill" after a home run, but not two. Just right. Pedroia, the magnificent pest, responded with a 10-pitch walk in his next at bat to put Garza in trouble! Every pitch, Pedroia looked at Garza like, "You enjoying this, big boy? What's your pitch count now? 95? 100? Oh, and I'm still standing on TOP of the plate." Loved it. Baseball as it should be. For Boston, Jon Lester didn't respond. He pitched like a gentleman. Which he is. (And Willy Aybar jerked a double and home run to left off him.)
On top of all this, the Rays think that, with Carl Crawford back and David Price giving them an extra lefty in the bullpen that they are healthier and better than at any point this season -- when they won 97 in the same division as the Red Sox (whom they've now played 25 times this year!) and the Yankees (18). The Phils are good. But the Rays will not be intimidated. The Rays will lose a decent bat -- DH's Cliff Floyd or Aybar -- in the Philly games, but not a core star. Phils have enough bench to add a good bat at DH.
Finally, we've seen teams that were rusty after long layoffs -- like the Tigers, who were awful in Game 1 and never recovered. MLB's postseason is now a joke with all its days off for TV. This may help the Rays slightly. The Phils have played only nine games in the first three weeks of October.
So, how can the Phils compete or win? The Rays, after 16 homers in the ALCS, but only five runs in the last two games, may be ready for a team hitting slump. Not probably. Just maybe. Teams get very hot and very cold in October. Have the Rays fallen in love (too much) with the home run? Of course, it's hard to love the HR too much in Citizens Bank!
Cole Hamels is an excellent way to start any series. He can flip the home-field edge in one night. And the Rays have a lot of key lefty bats at the top of the lieup that he may snuff -- Iwamura, Pena, Crawford. However, there's a flip side to that; the Phils would also use souhpaw Jamie Moyer twice in a long series. He gets out RHers better with his slop. So, by accident, the Rays are lucky that they have 3 LH bats in the top 5 spots in their order. I'm a big Moyer fan (who isn't), but he's had a long season. Not sure he's got his command. Also, I'm having a hard time with "Brett Myers, Series Hero, Beats Darling Rays." Don't think that's how it's going to go.
The Phils can hit, they've got heart and a trio of MVP quality talents in Rollins, Utley and Howard. Also, I'm delighted to see I underestimated Victorino. He's turned out to be a steal. Also, in the Series, the Closer Matters. Here, the edge is as big as you will ever see -- in favor of the Phils. Wheeler looks like he is toast. A 48- and 33-pitch game against Boston, then had nothing in Game 7. A journeyman who's tried hard and salvaged Game 2 of the ALCS. But how do the Rays survive the 7-8-9 innings against the Phils hitters? J.P. Howell can spot up with Utley and Howard. Is David Price, who never pitched a pro game until less than five months ago, going to close both the ALCS and the World Series?
I guess that would be appropriate for (potentially) the most amazing one-season underdog turnaround in the history of American pro sports. If the Rays win, it won't top the "greatest" Series-ever list. How can beating the 92-win Phillies be The Best Series? And great underdog moments aren't necessarily better than other fabulous highlights. I'm crazy about the Rays. But not nuts. However, if the Rays win, it will be absolutely unique and probably, eventually, in everybody's Top Five Series.
Finally, it's worth noting that nobody ever predicts anything correctly in October for the right reasons. Nobody would have predicted that putting speedster Perez on the Rays roster, instead of 20-homer Eric Hinske, would have won Game 2 with Perez scoring on a 190-foot sacrifice pop up in extra innings. Nobody wiould have predicted any asect of the Red Sox comeback from 7-0 with seven outs left in Game 5. Who'd even have picked Garza as MVP or that the Rays could stare down Boston -- and momentum -- in Game 7. And if you had Rocco Baldelli, battling a disease which I will not attempt to spell, producing the ALCS-winning RBI hit, then you are psychic. All sports predictions are bunk. We all know that. I'll admit it after "calling" this series. But they sure are fun.
Pick: Rays in seven.
Posted by: Chris | October 21, 2008 1:17 PM | Report abuse
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